HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 40)

Blog 40

Junior Year, January 19th

According to what we’ve been hearing from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), the governing body for secondary school athletics and the Department of Public Health (DPH), this Tuesday, January 19th, is supposed to be the start of winter sports. Unfortunately, the alternative spring football season will no longer occur because winter sports got pushed back so far due to the pandemic. However, the CIAC has given the go-ahead for winter sports with some caveats.

The CIAC categorized the risk of each sport and laid out guidelines. The only low-risk sport is swimming. That can go on as normal with crowd-control measures. Basketball, ice hockey, gymnastics, and indoor track are moderate-risk. These moderate-risk sports obviously need to limit spectators. All participants have to wear a mask at all times. And they will have an abbreviated season. Wrestling, competitive cheer, and competitive dance are high-risk. They will be limited to small group conditioning and non-contact skill-building activities for the entire season.

Non-contact wrestling… which also means no matches for the entire season… I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t feel like wrestling to me. Dakota and I anxiously await to find out what non-contact wrestling is. What does that look like?

Well, January 19th is upon us now, and wrestling isn’t. There is no wrestling season taking place. So, I guess Dakota and I now know what non-contact wrestling looks like. It looks like nothing… nothing at all. Dakota’s junior year of wrestling is lost…

Dakota began his wrestling journey his freshman year of high school with the goal of becoming a state champ. I supported his mission because I knew the extreme demands of this sport would forge his character into a good man who becomes a leader and is brave enough to take on difficult things. I knew the sport of wrestling would make my son a good man someday, even if he did not know that yet.

But… so much has been taken away from Dakota. He had a fantastic freshman year where he came out for the team as a freshman who had never wrestled before. He was a natural. He was extremely athletic, super flexible, and a quick study. He made the varsity wrestling team as just a freshman. And ended up with a winning record that year. However, about two-thirds of the way through the season, he injured his knee.

After his freshman year wrestling season, Dakota participated in off-season wrestling. He continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Dakota looked like he was on track to be a state champ wrestler for his senior season. However, he also kept having intermittent knee problems during the spring and summertime of his freshman year. These knee problems sidelined him entirely during the fall of his sophomore year. He ended up needing surgery in the fall. His meniscus was torn in three spots and was folding over. Dakota missed his entire sophomore high school wrestling season due to that surgery.

I kept telling him to not worry about it. He was still young, and he’d have the off-season in the spring and summer to make up for it. Then came Covid 19. And the State of Connecticut shut down all sports. Even though Dakota’s knee appeared to finally be better, there is no longer any spring, summer, or fall wrestling in our state in 2020.

With trepidation, we kept looking toward November 30th for the start of his junior high school season. When it didn’t happen, we turned our gaze toward January 19th, which is now here, but without wrestling. They are now telling us it is doubtful that there will be any off-season wrestling either in the spring and maybe even summer.

It really is a very short journey from one’s high school freshman year to senior year. I never knew the trip could really be this short. I thought Dakota was right on track and had plenty of time to learn all that he needed to learn to be a state champ and wrestle in Fargo at the Junior Olympics, as well. Now, it looks like life is once again proving me wrong. Very wrong. I’m not blaming anyone for this. Life throws a lot of curveballs. However, so many opportunities have been taking away from Dakota to learn what is necessary to become a state champ. Now, I know that door isn’t closed yet. But, it certainly isn’t as wide open as it once was during his freshman year.

To go from freshman year to jump right to his senior year and be a state champ is a very big ask. I don’t know if Dakota will be a state champ or not. And I feel really bad for him if he doesn’t reach his goal. But, as his father and coach, I’ve always known that this wrestling journey has never really been about the gold medal. It’s always been about the development of a good man. And that part of this journey is still on track. While Dakota may not be dealing with learning how to suck it up when you’re tired and down. He certainly is learning that life throws many curveballs. And you have to always keep your head up and adapt, improvise, and overcome. And sometimes you have to go to Plan B. And sometimes, not getting your dreams gives you your destiny of what you’re really supposed to be doing with your life.

Dakota is still on track to become a good man. Only time will tell about the gold medal on top of the podium. And… there’s always college wrestling if that’s a road that Dakota decides on his own that he wants to go down…


Click here to learn more about the wrestling book Dan Gable and Larry Owings wrote the Foreword and Introduction for:

Hitting the Mat: The Making of A State Champion or at Least Good Man